The Secret to Effective Web Photography

The ability for a photograph to convey a message or evoke an emotion is a well documented and understood phenomenon. The art of presenting information in a striking, visual manner – the very basis of all design – shares a lot in common with photography. Both a well framed photograph and a well balanced design use the same principles to create a pleasant visual experience. Technological advances in high speed internet, bandwidth increases, and constant mobile connectivity have removed many of the older barricades that had prevented us from using high quality photography online. We have entered the age of the photograph.

The popularity of image sharing applications such as Instagram and even Facebook consistently reaffirm the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. The internet has progressed (or arguably regressed) to the point where many serious issues and debates have been reduced to a single image and a sarcastic quip. Technology doesn’t always evoke a positive change. That being said, we can use the powerful nature of photography to our advantage in web design.

Photography as design

Using photography as a major design element is an especially useful tool when we consider the limitations set forth by responsive web design and a content centric view of the web. Since we no longer have control over how our content will be delivered at all times, we have to focus our efforts to make sure that each visual element is providing the impact that we desire.

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Using impactful, high resolution photography as a design element can help to bring a warm, tactile, physical element to a medium that is generally regarded as very cold and digital. When used in conjunction with appropriate typography and layout, photography can help to reinforce a desired emotional reaction to the design.

Photography as content

Telling you that photography can help you sell your product should not be something I need to reiterate here, but there are a few aspects of product photography that seem to fall through the cracks. The most important and often overlooked element is staging. Staging a product photo allows you to do more than simply show potential buyers what the product looks like, it lets you reinforce an existing narrative.
As an example, we recently shot a custom built guitar for a local craftsman and instead of simply bringing the guitar into our studio for a basic, white background isolated product shot, we decided to use product staging to tell more of a story.
This particular guitar was hand-crafted out of 100-year-old reclaimed barn wood. It didn’t make any sense to simply photograph the instrument on white when we could capture it more in its own element. Surrounding the instrument with vintage tools, wood chips and placing it on a hand-built work bench helped expand the narrative.

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Another common mistake is believing that every photo is created equally. There is a big difference between a high-resolution, well framed, professional photo and something that was quickly shot on someone’s phone from a passing vehicle. This should also be something that doesn’t need to be said, but from my experience it comes up over and over again.

For example, suppose you were tasked to create a website for a local restaurant and had to choose between the following photos.

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It doesn’t take Ansel Adams to realize that these photos are not going to evoke the same reaction from the visitor, in fact the second may actually be doing more harm than good. While budgetary restrictions often come into play with these types of things, it’s important to realize that each element of your website should work together with the others to present a clear, concise, and professional exterior.

Christopher Elkjar is a creative director for 20th Century. Let him know your thoughts @chriselkjar on twitter.

Proper usage food photo example provided by Kevan Luc Morin. Cheers!